Portugal’s history is filled with stories of its maritime strength.
Portuguese explorers vied with the English, Dutch, and Spanish across all the oceans of the world from the 15th Century onwards.
Portugal has two distinct coastlines, one facing west into the Atlantic and one facing south into the Mediterranean.
The influence of the sea features in Portugal’s cuisine, with salt cod and sardines the country’s national dishes.
There is no doubt about the quality of Portugal’s beaches.
The temperatures on the Atlantic Coast may not be as consistently high as those on the Mediterranean, but when it comes to the best beaches in Portugal, they include ones on both stretches of coast.
1. Praia Forte do Paço, Viana do Castelo, Porto
The coastline north of Porto is one of beaches, dunes, and coves.
The best of the beaches is just 800 meters long and takes its name from an 18th Century fort that now lies in ruins.
The beach is rarely busy, even in the height of summer, and families will have a great time.
There are shallow pools created at low tide which make great paddling pools for youngsters.
Children can enjoy the ruins in safety as well.
There are no refreshments available on site so it is best to take your own picnic.
2. Dunas de São Jacinto, Aveiro, Porto
These dunes lie between the Atlantic and the Sierra da Freita, Arestal and Caramulo.
This is a protected reserve area that is great for bird watchers, with gannets and ospreys the highlights.
Those who enjoy an unspoiled natural environment will not be disappointed.
The white sand stretches for around eight kilometers and few other people will spoil your attempts to relax.
There is no café nor are there lifeguards on patrol.
Boardwalks have been installed to make it easier to reach the beach, but otherwise, there is limited infrastructure, nor anything currently planned.
3. Praia da Miramar, Arcozelo
There is a lovely little chapel standing alone on rocks at Praia da Miramar.
Crowds of any size are rare, even at the height of summer.
You may even have the beach to yourself on a midweek day in the summer.
You may well find a bracing breeze on your visit, with little shelter, but the beautiful sands more than compensate.
If you use your imagination and capture the chapel – Cadela do Senhor da Pedra – in silhouette as the sun sets, you will have a picture to be proud of in your album.
There are shops, cafes, and restaurants in Miramar itself.
4. Praia do Baleal, Peniche, Lisbon
This four-kilometer stretch of sand runs in a curve on the Peniche Peninsula north of Lisbon.
It is a great place at low tide, when rock pools are left with crabs and shells hidden among the seaweed.
A little to the north, you can explore caves and ravines if you get bored with just lying on the beach sunbathing.
You will find cafes and restaurants, with the highlight of any menu being the seafood.
The waters are relatively calm for swimming on this stretch of Atlantic Coast but the area is also popular with surfers.
5. Praia da Adraga, Sintra-Cascais, Lisbon
This region just above Lisbon holds much for history lovers.
However, there is also a lovely beach, Praia da Adraga.
The cove is in the shape of an elephant’s trunk, with rocks providing shade on a sunny day.
Surfers use these waters but the beach is rarely busy.
When the tide goes out, it is fun to explore the small cave which becomes exposed.
A local restaurant serves lovely fresh seafood and lies just off the beach.
There is a clifftop walking trail stretching five kilometers to the westerly most tip of mainland Europe.
6. Praia do Guincho, Lisbon
If you are looking for a rugged beach near Lisbon, this is it.
Praia do Guincho lies between Sintra and the resort of Cascais.
It is the first pick for surfers in the area, and with limited public transportation available, it never really gets busy.
The wind means kite-surfers get as much fun as those out on the surfboards.
If you just want to get together with friends and enjoy the beach, you have found the right place.
You may need to have a car to get there, however.
It is fairly exposed, with only small dunes to the rear, so there are better places for families to select.
Facilities include showers, bars, and restaurants.
7. Portinho da Arrabida, Sierra da Arrabida
Once you are south of Lisbon, you will reach a region of lovely beaches with mountains behind.
This lovely beach of white sand is close to fishing villages, where traditional Portuguese cuisine is readily available.
This whole region is a nature park and regarded as one of the most beautiful places in Portugal.
The landscape is impressive and rare wildlife lives throughout.
The beach itself is just one of several in a short stretch of coastline.
The lack of good public transport favors those prepared to make the effort to get somewhere away from the crowds.
8. Praia da Amália, Brejão, Alentejo
The wild Atlantic Coast of Portugal continues as you head south.
Alentejo is famous for its historical ruins, dating back to the Moors, and its lovely coves and beaches – this is certainly one of them.
There is a cascade of water falling down onto the beach, providing a great shower on a hot day.
The beach is named after a famous Fado singer, Amalia Rodriques, and is accessed by using old smugglers’ trails and those that fishermen have used subsequently.
Make sure to try the delectable fresh fish while you are here.
9. Praia Zambujeira do Mar, Alentejo
This beach is in the heart of the Costa Vicentina e Sudoeste Alentejano Natural Park.
Visitors often split their time between the beach and the nature park.
The beach is surrounded by cliffs, from which the views are spectacular.
You can surf in the morning in the powerful waves that break onto the beach and then trek in the afternoon.
It is not a place for novice surfers, however.
It is rarely busy, although there is a huge music festival in August – Sudoeste Rock Festival.
10. Praia da Santa, Salema, West Algarve
The beaches in the Algarve are no less impressive, with Praia da Santa a prime example of this.
A short walk west of Salema, you will find the small cove and beautiful sands of Praia da Santa.
There is something for everyone in the area, where dinosaur tracks in the stone are evidence of them walking this land 125 million years ago.
There are more modern reminders that the Moors were here centuries ago.
This beach is fairly wild, despite the Mediterranean waters being less fierce than those of the Atlantic Ocean.
11. Praia da Senhora da Rocha, West Algarve
If you head east of Portimão, you will find this lovely beach.
On the first Sunday in August, a procession of the Madonna goes down from the chapel to the sands.
Sheer cliffs – which look orange as the sun sets – surround this sheltered beach, accessed through a tunnel.
The sands are full of scallop shells and the beach slopes away steeply into the sea.
During the high season, there is a lifeguard in attendance.
There are a number of small cafes close by if you are in need of some refreshments.
12. Sao Rafael Beach, Albufeira, Algarve
Sao Rafael is a small, sandy beach, where lifeguards are in attendance in the summer.
It is surrounded by cliffs.
Albufeira is located in the heart of Portugal’s most popular tourist region and there are plenty of water sports available.
The waves are ideal for surfing and kayaks or paddle boards can be hired if you prefer something less energetic.
There are plenty of cafes and restaurants serving typical Portuguese cuisine.
A seafood restaurant is found right on the beach – you must try the sardines.
13. Praia da Marinha, Lagos, Algarve
Praia da Marinha is the finest beach in another of the Algarve’s popular resorts, Lagos.
The soft white sand sits in front of cliffs.
It does not get especially busy, perhaps due to the lack of public transport.
You have to walk down the cliff steps after you park the car.
If you enjoy snorkeling, you will enjoy the waters of this Lagos beach.
It is a great place for swimming or just sunbathing.
The steps mean it is not really a beach for families with young children.
14. Praia do Barril, Ilha da Tavira, East Algarve
This beach with dunes is on an island within Ria Formosa Natural Park, about 40 minutes drive from Faro Airport.
The dunes form a barrier between marshes and the sea.
Walk through the marshes to a lovely stretch of beach that is 11 kilometers long.
It is busy at times, but there is plenty of room.
The restaurant on the western part of the island attracts people, but such is the size of the beach that you can avoid any crowds.
The water is relatively calm, so Praia do Barril is an ideal place to relax.
15. Praia de Cacela Velha, East Algarve
Cacela Velha is in the east of Ria Formosa Natural Park beside a large lagoon.
The best way to reach the beach is by boat, but a day trip to the beach is still a worthwhile exercise.
You can walk but it is quite a trek.
If you want a place with cafes, lifeguards, and toilets, this is not for you – it attracts a select audience.
Kids will love it; at low tide, there are small pools which may contain crabs and fish.
There may be no one else around which guarantees you plenty of space.